top of page

Colombia - Top Tips

Super Seven

Bogota Firstly, I wouldn't allocate a huge amount of time in Bogota, as the country in general has so much to offer. I'd start off in La Candelaria, which is the vibrant heart of the city. Plaza Bolivar is home to the beautiful colonial-era cathedral, as well as plenty of street sellers and food spots. This is definitely is one of the best places to people-watch, so have your camera ready. You can then stroll to the red and white striped Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen, and finish up at the Gold Museum. If you have a couple of hours free and want to get an insight into a different neighbourhood, I'd highly recommend a guided tour of El Paraiso Favela. The community is an array of colourful buildings, street murals, and great food vendors. The capital of Colombia gets somewhat of a bad rep due to crime rates. In truth, it's the same as many other capitals around the world. Just take extra caution and stick to the mainstream tourist areas.

Cartagena For vibrant colours in every direction, look no further than the port city of Cartagena on Colombia's Caribbean coast. Every street is packed with colour in the form of buildings, murals, local attire, and flowers. The city is walkable, so start off by the sea at the walled old town, then head inland where you'll walk through plaza after plaza whilst stopping to photograph the colourful streets. Main points of interest are Torre del Reloj Monument, Bolivar Plaza, San Pedro Church, Santa Catalina Cathedral, Trinidad Plaza, and Las Bóvedas, with the latter being a great place to shop for arts and crafts. For somewhere completely different and to take a "time out" from the tourist crowds, head to Abaco Libros y Cafe. This is a unique place to grab a coffee and a cake, but also doubles up as a traditional book shop.

San Jose del Guaviare My personal highlight of my time in Colombia was definitely San Jose del Guaviare, which was simply "WOW". Until recent years, this place was very much off limits, as it was regarded as a region of conflict. Times change and the town is doing everything possible to join the tourist boom spreading through the country. Cerro Azul is reffered to as the "Sistine Chapel" of rock art and rightly so. This is one of the largest collections of prehistoric rock art dated over 12,000 years ago scaling a cliff face in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. The detail and clarity is what surprised me the most, along with the sheer scale of the area. You arch your neck up, and see the rock art sprawling over 50 metres above you. Some of the drawings depict extinct ice-age animals, so it gives an insight into a ancient civilisation. The second attraction worthwhile spot in the area is Orion Gate, which is a beautiful region to take a short hike. The origin of the name is due to the close proximity to the stars and the view of the Orion Belt constellation looking through the rock hole on a clear night. The trek will ultimately finish up at the picturesque Caño Sabana. Be sure to visit between June and December to admire the pink aquatic plants lining the river bed. For something different, there's a handful of locals that previously worked during the "Cocaine Boom" whom are fascinating to speak to. They will educate on the steps of production and highlight how their life has changed decades on. Note - There's direct flights to Guaviare from Bogota, so it's definitely worth allocating 2-3 days here.

Medellin Overall, Medellin is a great base to use, as there's plenty within easy reach. The city itself is very "cycle friendly" with plenty of cycling tours. I took one myself with Green Bike Tours on a 4 hour loop and really enjoyed it. First stop is perhaps the most strenuous, as it's an uphill cycle to Cerro Nutibara. It's on the top of a rocky hill in the middle of the city with plenty of trees, a small sculpture park, as well as view points of the bustling city below. You'll then cycle to many of the typical tourist spots including the Plaza Botero, Palace of Culture, Plaza Cisnero, and the Atamasop Giradot Stadium Complex. My final recommendation would be take a walking tour through the "Comuna 13" neighbourhood. There's so much energy in here with with street art performers, graffiti murals, panoramic viewing decks, and plenty of community activities. My personal opinion, I feel you'll gain so much more from the experience by using a local guide with connections to the community.

Pablo Escobar Tour When many vision Colombia, they can't help but think of Pablo Escobar. One of the most notorious drug lords of all time is of course, Colombian. He was the founder and sole leader of the Medellin Cartel, so there's a great tour you can take whilst in Medellin. You'll pass by one of his former properties, a mountaintop hideaway, the Inflexión Memorial Park, and even his grave. The guides have extensive knowledge with many of them living in the "Escobar Era". I booked a tour via GetYourGuide.

Guatape Another worthwhile excursion from Medellin is a full day trip to the vibrant Andes town of Guatape, that can be combined with a visit to the iconic Penol Rock. The town of Guatape is colourful in every direction with plenty of narrow streets to explore. You'll have your pick of craft stores, coffee shops, souvenir sellers, and local architecture to admire. Use Zocalos Plaza as your starting point and take a stroll from there. As for Penol Rock, it's 285 metres high and you'll have to walk the 740 steps to reach the top. Your reward will be amazing views across the surrounding landscape. Geologists date the granite rock at 65 million years old, which is just mind blowing! There's plenty of restaurants and stores at the base if you don't have the energy to reach the top, but you've come this far, so don't miss out.

Cocora Valley I finished off my time in Colombia with a visit to the Cocora Valley by spending a couple of days in the quaint picturesque town of Salento. This region is incredibly green and fresh, so it's a worthy addition to your itinerary. Salento itself, is lined with cobblestone streets, colourful architecture, craft stores, landscape view decks, and an amazing coffee scene. If you want to pick up a Cocora tour, you'll see all guides touting the main street along Plaza de Bolivar. Hop in a jeep, take a 20 minute ride, and you'll reach the beautiful Cocora Valley. The valley is regarded as a National Park and the only place in the world to see wax palm trees in their natural environment, so it's certainly a unique spot. At 60 metres tall, they're the highest palm trees on the planet and compliment the deep green landscape. The trees thrive in a high-altitude environment, so the valley is perfect, considering the lowest point is 5,900 feet above sea level. There's plenty of walking trails to various vantage points and a handful of Instagram style props. For the adrenaline junkies out there, take things a step further and mountain bike La Carbonera, which is a lesser-explored region of the valley (details in Good Guide section).

Accommodation Advice

I stayed in some great hotels and guest houses throughout my itinerary, but there's one that stands out, which is Beminimal in Medellin. Located in a quiet upmarket neighbourhood, but still within easy reach of many attractions. The rooms are spacious and ultra modern, WiFi speed is fine for remote working, and there's also a great coffee shop on the ground floor of the building. You're looking at $70 USD a night on average, so there's definitely cheaper options in the city as a whole. It will obviously come down to what standard you're looking for.

Food Factor

The food in Colombia as a whole was fantastic! So many options in all the major cities from high-end to street food. One spot I want to recommend is Donde Laurita in Salento, specifically for the traditional food dishes on offer. What I liked about Donde Laurita is that you see a constant stream of locals dining, rather than just tourists. For me, it's always a sign of a good cuisine. I tried Bandeja Paisita which is a traditional bean tray dish served with eggs and chorizo sausage, and it's one I would definitely recommend! The menu is extensive, the decor is traditional, and I'd say it's mid-range from a cost perspective.

Good Guide

I used a handful of local companies to book excursions throughout the country, and there's a couple I Can definitely recommend. For the San Jose del Guaviare region, I would recommend Geotours as a local operator to assist with excursions. They have their own website via this link, but you can also reach them on Whatsapp via +57 320 8815678. Worth noting that they're Spanish speaking, as 99% of their guests are via local tourism, but you can hire an English speaking translator to join the excursions.

Another company I'd recommend is Salento Cycling, as I feel they offer a unique experience in this region. Many visit the Cocora Valley to view some of the tallest palm trees on the planet, but few cycle La Carbonera, which a region starting at 3,400 meters. You'll spend the next 4 hours tackling the 30km downhill trail on mountain bikes, stopping at many panoramic view points along the way. Worth noting that you'll get Cocora Valley style landscapes, but without the actual tourist crowds. You can also reach Salento Cycling via Whatsapp on +57 316 5351792.


You Might Also Like:
bottom of page